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How far was British expansion in East and West Africa driven by the men on the spot?

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Sinéad Longden How far was British expansion in East and West Africa driven by the ‘men on the spot’? There are many different causes that are attributed to Britain’s expansion in East and West Africa. One of which is the ‘men on the spot’, these individuals like Goldie and Mackinnon, were no doubt instrumental in British expansion, however fair weight has to be placed on the other factors as well. Foreign competition is a recurring cause throughout many different countries’ history for some key decisions. The Scramble for Africa is no different and so perhaps the expansion was led by this need to compete with other countries and to retain the supremacy Britain enjoyed. However, similarly somewhat to Egypt, internal affairs and local crises could have a role to play in the decisions Britain made. Sir William Mackinnon was a Scottish ship-owner who proposed a scheme in 1877 in which a group of Britons led by him would administer the whole area from the coast to Lake Victoria in the name of the Sultan. The interest he showed in this area suggested to some that this could be a valuable piece of land. However the fact that they would be doing in the name of the Sultan suggests they were not looking to add the area to their formal empire. ...read more.


This part of Africa had unknown sources of wealth and, even if there was nothing, Britain wanted to take the risk to make sure no other country could benefit from it. At this point in time Britain was the number 1 imperial power in the world, and she wanted it to stay that way. France was also looking to East Africa and the interest of both these countries drew Britain?s attention to East Africa and it started to consider expanding there. In West Africa more foreign powers were involved. It was known that the area had valuable trading products like palm oil and so that interested many other countries. Likewise with East Africa, Britain wanted to make sure the other countries did not get so much land that they could threaten Britain?s position. Also, the fact that Britain knew how much potential wealth was available could mean that the foreign competition argument becomes much stronger for the drive of expansion in West Africa. The French colony of Senegal expanded significantly in the 1850s under General Faidherbe. Senegal nearly engulfed the British colony of Gambia. Although Gambia was of little use to Britain they did not want to give up any territories that were once under their rule. It was not just Senegal that France was expanding, Charles Freycinet had ambitious plans for West Africa and he was supported by Admiral Jaureguibbery. ...read more.


There were many British traders in the Fanti region and so this made sense on that level. Also, the British wanted to make sure the Ashanti didn?t expand to the coast and threaten the British traders and they might have thought that by having the Fanti area, they could put up a better fight against the Ashanti. The British expansion in West and East Africa were mainly driven by three key factors; men on the spot, foreign competition and internal affairs. In East Africa Mackinnon certainly may have properly introduced the idea of expanding but the competition from Germany was equally, if not more, important. Furthermore the need to protect British missionaries out there could have led Britain to exert more authority. In West Africa I think that Goldie was slightly more important than Mackinnon was in the East. Goldie united the traders and increased their influence on the British government. However the expansion of other countries certainly threatened Britain, but the Ashanti wars showed an even greater need for Britain to expand in West Africa - otherwise they would lose their trading stations. The men on the spot did help to draw the British government?s attention to these parts of Africa that had not been fully exploited. However I think it is ultimately the foreign competition in the East and the Ashanti wars in the West that made Britain expand and the men on the spot did help to drive it but only slightly. ...read more.

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